How to Map Historic Census Data with QGIS

1800 modcomp largewcitiesTen years ago I took an introductory Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class. It was a bit mystifying (as those technical courses can be to us humanities folks) but I could see the potential. I’m sorry to say that the ins and outs of ArcGIS faded from memory as I ran that marathon of coursework, comps, prospectus, etc., etc. Yes, I actually reverted to paper maps, highlighters and, yes, dear reader, I used thumbtacks. It worked for what I needed then, but I need a bit more now.

Maps answer questions. The questions my maps need to answer are really important to my larger project: How many people lived on the American coast? Where did they live? What was the coast’s population density? And how did it change over of the nineteenth century? I tried google and as you might surmise, no good hits. So I cracked open my computer and spent too much time piecing together advice and how-to guides as I stumbled through making my first GIS maps. What follows is how I did it. Why? Honestly, I want to have the directions handy when I’m trying to do this again in a year or two. Secondly, maybe this post can help some uninitiated humanities researcher dip their toes in GIS joy. This post explains how I made the maps above. The next post will analyze them.

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More Ships, Shipwrecks, and Coastal History

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So its taken a few more months than I thought to get back to Ships on the Shore. But what a few months it’s been! I’m happy to report that I recently began an appointment as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of History at the University of West Florida in lovely, lovely Pensacola. (This seems a wise place to note that Ships on the Shore remains my personal blog and, as such, does not reflect the opinions of my employer.) My temporary hiatus from higher ed—and this blog—has ended.

A lot has changed on this here internet since Ships on the Shore launched in 2011. For one thing, blogs seem to have become a bit passé. (Don’t ask me where I heard that, though, if pressed, I’d point to an episode of Fresh Air.) Still, working on this blog really helped me research, write, and actually finish my dissertation. I hope it works the same magic as I turn that dissertation into a proper book. The nature of posts will change – there will certainly be fewer and they’ll probably range a bit wider than before as I reframe, revise, and…submit my first manuscript. I’m also working on some really exciting “coastal” projects at UWF and have a few relevant side projects that I hope to share with you as they come together in the months ahead. I’m eager to see how Ships on the Shore develops.

If you’ve made it this far: thank you. Your comments, questions, suggestions, and “views” make work that is notoriously (some say perversely) isolating… social. Please read, comment, click around. Send me an email. Tweet a comment.  Forward a post. Tell me what I got wrong; what I missed; what I got right. I truly appreciate it all.

 

Some posts that are in the works:

-The coast, the beach, the littoral…are they different? Does it matter?

-Why are coasts so damn complicated?

-Maritime cultural landscapes, disasters, and frontiers—picking historiographical “fights”

-Relearning basic GIS: mapping historic census data with QGIS

-Digital serendipity, or, how the New Jersey Shipwreck Database found me

-quick reviews of recent reads

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“The Wrecker” (1843) by Charles J. Peterson (part 1)

zzMooncussers. Land Pirates. Wreckers. These iconic figures are the epitome of evil. They intentionally lure ships ashore for illegal plunder. Murder, deceit, and bloodcurdling knavery are the tools of their trade, and while their myth endures, especially in the wreck traps of yore (think: Cornwall, New Jersey, Cape Cod), the nefarious wrecker has always been a figment of the Romantic Imagination. A slew of historians–here’s the best yet–have searched high and low for real-life mooncussers and they’ve come up empty handed… well almost. Like other figments of the Romantic Imagination, wreckers became staples of nineteenth-century Atlantic World literature. Wrecker lit is pretty spectacular. I’d like to share a few of these salty tales on Ships on the Shore.

What follows is a classic retelling of a long-forgotten wrecker short story published serially in the Ladies’ National Magazine in July 1843. This one has it all — a raging storm “increasing in fury every hour,” a mysterious, desperate “solitary wayfarer,” an imperiled vessel, and… well you’ll just have to read it. Part one is transcribed below:

The Wrecker.

By Charles J. Peterson

The storm was at its height. During the whole day and part of the preceding night it had been blowing fiercely, increasing in fury every hour, until it now raged with an intensity rarely witnessed even on our hospitable Atlantic coast. The wind whistled shrilly over the flat beach, making the bare elder bushes rattle like dry bones and almost prostrating the solitary wayfarer, who stood, half sheltered by the low sand hill, gazing out over the white and troubled ocean. Whoever he might be he had chosen a singular hour for his watch. It was long after twilight, and, in the shadowy obscurity, the agitated ocean before him, with its dark billows tipped with foam, stretching away before the sight until lost in the gloom of the wild seaboard, had something ghastly in its aspect. A rack of leaden colored clouds drove across the firmament, stooping low down over the waters with a weird and threatening aspect.–They ran in mountains, and though the whole surface of the deep was spotted with foam, there was a white continuous line that never disappeared, just beneath the visible horizon, betokening the shoals on her coast. Further in the waves broke again; and a few yards from the watcher they were shivered for the third time, hurling themselves on the beach in ceaseless thunder. At first their dark bosoms could be seen heaving sullenly up against the black seaboard; then, all at once, a white line of foam, beginning at one end of the toppling wave, would run swiftly along the brow; the crest would curl over for an instant; and then the huge mass of water would plunge headlong, in a cataract of snowy spray, on the beach.–For a space the fragments of the wave would be seen shooting up the sand, and then as rapidly returning with the undertow. Another billow would now break with a concussion as loud as before, again the shattered wave would slide up the beach, and again the undertow would succeed.

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Step #1: make the to-do list

FullSizeRenderFirst things first — figure out what needs to get done. I went old school with pen and paper, avoiding those fancy to-do list apps and hacks and what not. It’s a bit daunting and I suspect this revision-publication process will take longer than I hope (+/-6 months). Time will tell. The list is transcribed below.

Blog:

1. Respond to comments and reach out to readers who contacted Ships on the Shore since March 2011

2. Update “About,” “Dissertation,” and “Links” pages.

3. Review and update “Blogroll”

4. Connect Ships on the Shore to new Twitter and LinkedIn (sure I want to do LinkedIn too?) accounts

5. Post with some regularity

Book: (yes, that’s right book — no longer dissertation!)

1. Print out copy and notate with suggestions from defense

2. line edit chapters 1, 2, and 5

3. separate third chapter into two chapters

a. Expand primary and secondary research United-States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) and federal activity on the early nineteenth-century coast

b. Expand primary and secondary research on the development of American coastal tourism

c. Draft, revise and edit chapters 3 and 4

4. Expand research on T.A. Scott and incorporate into marine salvage chapter

5. Rewrite introduction and conclusion

6. line edit manuscript

7. get help!! Plead/beg colleagues to read and offer suggestions on manuscript

Publishing

1. learn something about the whole publishing game

2. find potential publishers

3. submit manuscript

4. wait, pray, learn, read

And we’re off…

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We’re Back! Shipwrecks, Coastal Landscapes, and “Watery Graves”

yAfter lying dormant for two years, Ships on the Shore is back!

I feel a little rusty coming out of the blocks but time has come to turn that dissertation I blabbered about for two years into a proper book. Ships on the Shore was central to successfully researching, writing, and defending my dissertation so I have high hopes that this blog and you dear reader will help me once again.

Ships on the Shore will document turning a concise dissertation into a publishable (fingers-crossed published) work of history. If you choose to follow us–and I hope you do–expect tales of shipwrecks past and present. Expect news of research finds big and small. Expect a little bit of grousing (if only because I have to work for a living now — long gone are those sweet fellowship-funded days). And expect–hopefully–a bit of celebrating as we complete the book and navigate the publishing process.

Please, please, please post comments or send me an email! Your thoughts, comments, insights, and suggestions are so much more helpful than I can express. If you like what you read, share Ships on the Shore with others. For those of you who sent a message since 2011 — I’ll be reaching out to you very soon. I’m truly looking forward to connecting.

But enough about me and you — let’s talk shipwreck.

The first wreck back had to be a good one and this 1835 shipwreck has it all — mystery, salvage, a snow storm, whale oil, and  “not a soul” escaping “a watery grave.”

xMelanchohly Wreck.–The schr. Herald at this port of Saturday, picked up, between Montaug and Point Judith, 5 casks of sperm oil, bearing the mark of the guager at Warren; the sloop Traveller also picked up one cask, and several other vessels, saw fragments of the wreck, a mattrass, and a part of the quarter deck of a vessel, between Watch Hill and Point Judith. About 1000 barrels of oil, of which this was supposed to be a part, was shipped last week at Warren, on board two sloops for New York. As they both left Newport on Tuesday last, it was impossible to judge which of them had been wrecked, until yesterday afternoon, when a gentleman arrived from Warren, and on inspecting the casks, unhesitatingly pronounced them the cargo of the sloop Eloisa, Capt. Smith, one of the above vessels. It is supposed she struck on Fisher’s Island Reef, during the snow storm on Wednesday night, and in all human probability, not a soul escaped a watery grave. -Providence Journal of Monday.”

Incidentally, it was wrecks like this that made New London, Connecticut a prime spot for salvage master T.A. Scott to set up shop in the 1870s. Scott was a remarkable character — for more start here.

~Article transcribed from the April 8, 1835 edition of the Barnstable Patriot is graciously made available by the lovely Sturgis Library located on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

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